Interview: John Birmingham, author of Dave vs. the Monsters: Emergence

johnbirminghamPlease welcome John Birmingham to the blog! I’m thrilled that he answered a few questions about his new series Dave vs. the Monsters. The first book, Emergence, just came out and it’s awesome. Trust me on this one.
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Will you tell us a little about your new book, Emergence?
It’ll get tagged as Urban Fantasy but I think of it a comedy thriller. With monsters. And a totally unworthy superhero.

That would be Dave Hooper, the chief safety engineer on an oil rig which drills too deeply into the Gulf of Mexico and breaks the seal separating the UnderRealms from our world. When we first meet Dave he’s suffering from a terrible hangover, having blown his six monthly bonus on loose women and hard liquor – lest his ex wife spend it on something stupid like school fees for their two boys.

He is a bad man, in trouble with everyone from his bookie to the IRS. He’s also a master at blaming everyone but himself for these troubles. In fact, so miserable and self pitying is he when he first meet him, that his reaction to finding monsters on his oil rig is not fear, like everyone else, but rage. He knows things are going to kill everyone and destroy his rig and he’ll get the blame. The way he always gets the blame. Because nobody is going to believe Mordor attacked his oil platform.

In this fit of blind rage he picks up a sledge hammer and kills the blood-drunk leader of the monster pack that has indeed eaten half his crew and most likely would have blown up his oil rig. In doing that, Dave Hooper takes this creature’s strength and knowledge. He becomes the Champion and humanity’s best hope of surviving war with the UnderRealms.

So we’re pretty much fucked.

Why do you think readers will root for Dave Hooper?
Because, sadly, Dave is us. All of us. The worst parts, for sure. And reading yourself into Dave is like taking a holiday from grown up responsibilities. Don’t want to pay that bill? Don’t feel like dealing with that difficult relationship problem? Bosses got your number? Really, really, really want to have a bowl of curly fries and chicken gravy at the strip club for breakfast? Be the Dave.

What kind of research did you do for the book?
Are you implying I am The Dave? You are, aren’t you! Oh, wait, I just implied that myself. Look, okay, I am not unfamiliar with selfishness, and buffet binges, and the childish smashening of my enemies with a big hammer. But, er… Look, lets try that again.

I read a lot of monster lore for this book. There. Satisfied?

Will you tell us a little more about the “world” that Emergence is set in, and what kinds creatures that Dave has to deal with?
The story starts in our world. Same TV shows, same celebrities, same bills piled up in the kitchen. But another world leaks into ours after an oil company drills too deep and breaks the capstone between the worlds or men and monsters. Dark magic comes flooding back into the world of real things, and science has to work very hard and get its math right to kick dark magic’s ass.

Basically, I wanted to see how all of the monsters of our mythic past would measure up against our post industrial future. Can you shoot a dragon out of the sky with a stinger missile? Is that ten foot tall orc dual-wielding those swords any match for a drunken redneck with a shot gun? What would happen in the age of reality TV to an insufferable asshole who really was embiggened with super powers? The answer almost certainly involves entertainment lawyers and a lucrative merchandising deal.

When you start writing a book, do you already know what the ending will be, or do you just wait to see where the narrative takes you?
You think you know where it’s going, at first, but you don’t. This series grew out of my childhood impatience with Dr Who, and specifically with the never ending failure of UNIT to successfully respond to a single alien attack. Their guns never worked. The aliens were always immune or invincible or whatever. And then the Doctor undoes them with a long scarf or a sonic screw driver or something.

As if, I thought.

So this series was originally going to be about magic coming back into the world and getting its nuts handed to it by science. I totally imagined an army of ten thousand demons arrayed in battle order on the plains of the Midwest, and one lone B-52 droning high overhead, it’s bomb-bay doors opening smoothly…

But when I started to write Dave as the narrator he was one of those guys you know you shouldn’t like but you just can’t help it. He ended up taking over the story, the same way he’d take over your birthday party if you let him. (Seriously, don’t let him).

Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I was talking to a friend about this today. I knew I wanted to write shortly after I bought my first book. Not the first book I read, you understand? But the first novel I ever bought with my own money. Stephen King’s The Stand. I was in my early teens. I fell so deeply into that world I didn’t want to come out again. Inevitably, I wanted to try that sort of world building and story telling for myself. (I did. It was a disaster. I donated that early, unpublished manuscript to a library, to inspire other writers. “Hell, if this loser can make it, anyone can!”).

I wrote for about ten years before publishing my first book. Almost entirely in the street press. It was good at teaching me to hit a deadline and giving me a little bit of money to live off, so I could actually call myself a writer.

You’ve got quite a few titles under your belt, and have undoubtedly influenced other writers with your work. Who has inspired you the most?
As a teen, I was a huge King fan, as I said. But I used to write out whole chapters of Hunter S Thompson, word for word, line by line, trying to figure out where the amazing power of his writing came from. Michael Herr had a similar effect on me, although I stuck to reading Dispatches, his Vietnam memoir, about a dozen times, rather than writing it out again and again. These days I admire the elegance and economy of Neil Gaiman and remain indebted to Douglas Coupland.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Dispatches, by Herr. He does things to the language that bend your head completely out of shape.

What are you currently reading?
I have a few books on the go right now. Becoming Steve Jobs, the bio by those business writers. Peter V Brett’s latest, The Skull Throne. Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King. I’m listening to an old fave, Ken Grimwood’s Replay on Audible. And I try to read one page of Samuel Pepys diary before going to bed each night.

Man, I read too much.

What’s next for you?
I have a couple of ebooks for Dave vs the Monsters. I really wanted to know what was happening off-page to some of the other characters in the series, like Emmeline, and also Karin who appears at the end of Resistance. Apart from the monsters you only ever get Dave’s point of view in the long-form novels, so it’s great fun to look at him from a different perspective, often an unflattering one, stripped of his self regard. I’ll finish them off and start a new ‘season’ of The Dave. I really enjoyed writing all three books together. It became a bit of a deadline train wreck at one point, but it’s awesome being able to work on a whole series at once.

Keep up with John: Website | Twitter

About Dave vs. the Monsters: Emergence:
“Monsters,” said Vince Martinelli. “There are monsters on the rig, Dave.”
 
Dave Hooper has a hangover from hell, a horrible ex-wife, and the fangs of the IRS deep in his side. The last thing he needs is an explosion at work. A real explosion. On his off-shore oil rig.
 
But this is no accident, and despite the news reports, Dave knows that terrorists aren’t to blame. He knows because he killed one of the things responsible.
 
When he wakes up in a hospital bed guarded by Navy SEALs, he realizes this is more than just a bad acid trip. Yeah, Dave’s had a few. This trip is way weirder.
 
Killing a seven-foot-tall, tattooed demon has transformed the overweight, balding safety manager into something else entirely. A foul-mouthed, beer-loving monster slayer, and humanity’s least worthy Champion.

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